View Poll Results: Do you read sheet music for mandolin?

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  • Yes I do, it's great for learning/playing mandlin!

    74 67.89%
  • No, I rely on tablature.

    7 6.42%
  • I learned to read music but really, I just play by ear.

    18 16.51%
  • Never learned it, I play by ear.

    10 9.17%
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Thread: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

  1. #76
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Mandolin is what led me first to OldTime and then Irish/Scottish trad because it's so similar to a fiddle. It fits well there. But then the trad genre led me further into deciding to learn the "Irish" wooden flute for the wider range of expression in ornamentation. All those twiddly bits like cuts, rolls, taps, cranns that break up a sustaining sound with finger articulations. It all comes down from the early pipes, basically, and the other sustaining instruments like fiddle, concertina etc. find ways to mimic those articulations that make it "sound Irish." Mandolin (and banjo) are not sustaining instruments, so they come at ornamentation from a different angle with things like the "treble" ornament. It works, but it's more limited.
    .

    I get your point! But when I play ITM music, I find that many ornaments will work on mandolin, and perhaps the limits are less rigid than one would assume.

    Why not try cranns, rolls, cuts, etc. on mandolin or banjo?

  2. #77
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    I came to the mandolin, mandocello, and mandolin orchestra way late in retired life, after a career as a music teacher/professor. Obviously I was trained to read, including complex scores for full orchestra and choir. So my perspective is likely to be different from most entries, it was my job to teach people how to read. Even so, when I played folk and blues style finger picking guitar I just needed to know chords; I did not use my reading skills there. And when I taught my choirs a song from an oral tradition I sometimes did it by rote rather than sheet music. I understood that even in Mozart or Bach the music was not in the printed dots, and some eighth notes were different from other eighth notes. It's a mistake to think classically trained musicians are "stuck" with notation--just listen to five different recordings of the same piece and you'll hear different ideas. Bach was famous for taking a few notes or a short tune and improvising on the spot long complex pieces at the organ, now considered masterpieces.
    I could improvise a bit on guitar and piano, and knowing the theory behind the notes helped me know which things were going to sound good. It was even fun to "break the rules" and come up with something different, so reading did not constrain me, and I could play by ear, but partly because I could pick up what chords and notes I was hearing.
    I never got really good at improvising until I picked up the mandolin; I got into trouble in bluegrass jams because I couldn't stop noodling and fooling around when I was just supposed to play chop chords. Improvising was a whole new "fun with music" thing for me. But in workshops with Tim Connell and Frank Solivan I heard master players say knowing all the places on the mandolin where you could play a given note and understanding chord structure gave you more options how and where to play that note or chord. That might be different from printed notation, but it suggests a level of understanding beyond "put your fingers here."
    I don't read tab the same way I read notation, but I respect those who do and I agree that it is a historically well established practice. I sometimes look at tab because it helps me figure out how to finger a given pattern or chord--OH, that finger goes here. So I'm not anti-tab, but I do want people to have some understanding and respect for why this note goes to that note, and why this chord leads to that chord. I honestly don't know if tab gives you that, maybe a good tab reader can respond. But I once sat in a bluegrass workshop where the leader was demonstrating scales and used B major as an example. "So it's B, D flat, E flat....." ARGGHHH!! Sorry, if you thank that's OK, you do not understand music in terms of melody, harmony, relationships and changes. You might play a lot better than me but you don't quite understand what you are playing, or why some things sound better than others. I don't object to having fun, using what works for you, playing from tab or by ear. Just give notation the respect it deserves, and don't tell me it holds my playing back.
    Oh, and...
    By the way, If by the "so-called Nashville system" you mean the Roman numerals for chords, that started back the early 18th century. I would like to learn from a bluegrass scholar at what point it got to be "Nashville," like most teachers I'm a life-long learner. Maybe I'll try to learn to read tab.
    Jim

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  4. #78
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Imhoff View Post
    But I once sat in a bluegrass workshop where the leader was demonstrating scales and used B major as an example. "So it's B, D flat, E flat....." ARGGHHH!! Sorry, if you thank that's OK, you do not understand music in terms of melody, harmony, relationships and changes. You might play a lot better than me but you don't quite understand what you are playing
    I've seen this also in the rock world - obvious musical "misspellings", lack of theory expertise, etc.

    Let's say many musicians can play above their theory level!
    Last edited by DavidKOS; Mar-10-2023 at 1:49pm.

  5. #79

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Without giving a long-winded history of music....I would ask what type of music do you want to play? If we can separate classical (what my father called "long-haired music" -- terminology even more confusing in the 1960's!) from popular music. To learn it right, you want to learn how to read music and that takes time. If you want to play music today, learn a few chords and just start strumming. It helps if you can sing along, even if you are not a great singer, if you can hear the changes in the music and usually that is where the chord changes.

    I go back to the British invasion or perhaps a few years earlier, the folk years, where everyone wanted to play guitar and sales boomed. Along with banjo, mandolin, and even harmonica. In this sense, the guitar was the "people's instrument" versus piano, brass, woodwind, etc. You know in high school there were people who took band and people who played rock'n'roll -- the latter often untrained.

    I learned to read music, but for pop music it seemed unnecessary and slow once my ear developed where I could connect what I was hearing on records with what my instrument did. Usually, I would listen for the starting chord to determine the song's key and then pick the melody out of the chord positions. My sister took piano and learned to read music and plays well. The big advantage I see is that she can take sheet music from a song she has never heard and play it properly. My method requires listening first to the song. Add to that much of what I learned was from friends who showed me what they knew how to play. On electric guitar, for example, if you know a few barre chords you can learn an entire set of songs in an afternoon and perform them live a few days later. Same with bluegrass. Same with Nashville "studio cats" who record entire albums in one take over an afternoon without reading any music at all.

    And, I guess it depends on the person and their natural ability. I remember on my first harmonica, I spent all afternoon reading the little paper that came with it explaining how to blow and draw and what numbers were what notes. I struggled with it and after several hours I could only play a few notes, certainly nothing resembling a song. I sat the harmonica down on the table and my sister walks by and starts playing song after song sounding great without ever playing one before.

    So........

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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    March 10: Happy Birthday Jethro Burns!

    Just think how good he could have been if he hadn't been handicapped by being able to read music.


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  8. #81

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    ...By the way, If by the "so-called Nashville system" you mean the Roman numerals for chords, that started back the early 18th century. I would like to learn from a bluegrass scholar at what point it got to be "Nashville," like most teachers I'm a life-long learner. Maybe I'll try to learn to read tab.
    The number system was first used in Nashville by the leader of the background vocal group the Jordanaires to help them. Charlie McCoy saw them using it and asked what it was on their paper. Charlie McCoy is known for his harmonica work but he was kind of a utility man in the Nashville studios. He would pick up basic skills on all sorts of less used instruments and be used to fill in. He spread it to the other studio players there till it became kind of a default system. The Los Angeles studios, on the other hand, even today primarily write out the actual chords rather than numbers.

    Charlie McCoy's other claim to fame was that he played guitar on Bob Dylan's Desolation Row. He had been invited to sit in on that track by Dylan's producer. Dylan had been having trouble with the New York session musicians and not getting the sound he wanted. McCoy got there in one or two takes. This good experience convinced Dylan to record his next two or three albums in Nashville. including Nashville Skyline

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  10. #82
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    I've seen this also in the rock world - obvious musical "misspellings", lack of theory expertise, etc.

    Let's say many musicians can play above their theory level!
    There is a (probably apocryphal) story of Eric Clapton storming out of a recording studio in a rage some time in the 1960s because it was suggested to him that he might like to try a diminished scale in his solo - he thought it meant a pay cut!
    "Give me a mandolin and I'll play you rock 'n' roll" (Keith Moon)

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  12. #83
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    .

    I get your point! But when I play ITM music, I find that many ornaments will work on mandolin, and perhaps the limits are less rigid than one would assume.

    Why not try cranns, rolls, cuts, etc. on mandolin or banjo?
    At one time I figured out how to play a long roll on mandolin with a combination of pull-off and hammer-on fingerings around the target note. A pull-off can simulate a cut. It works okay if you're playing alone at home, and it's been done in recordings (I think Simon Mayor is a good example). But when playing with others in a live pub session you can't hear it! It's too quiet because the plucked note decays too fast.

    All one hears in a boisterous ITM session packed with fiddlers is the initial "ping" of the mandolin note attack. So generally speaking, in an ITM session a mandolin player will use the banjo "treble" ornament (quick triplet, independent of the tune tempo). A treble is loud enough to be heard, but it's a bit one-dimensional compared to what one can do by breaking up the sound of a sustaining note with finger articulations on fiddle or other classic ITM instruments.

    For me, the main strength of mandolin in ITM sessions is the availability of double-stops and partial chords within the melody line, all of which can be heard in a session along with treble ornaments for spice. Playing alone at home or in a recording, we do have those wider options with hammers and pulls. If the room is quiet enough.
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  14. #84
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Several months before The Beatles invaded America (that got MILLIONS into guitar), I discovered a weekly folk-music show on WCBS-AM, in the NYC area. It was my entry drug into the musical world beyond rock-n-roll, AND made me want to play guitar. (FM at that time was only classical and jazz.)

    Never mind that my ONLY musical knowledge was some terrible grammer school EGBDF and FACE, as in, pure torture. Heaven forbid that we should do anything as pleasurble as actually play music in class =that would surely be the devil's work=, or understand that those letters and squiggles represented anything melodic!

    So... Santa Clause brought this 15-year old a $29.95 Kay parlor guitar, and the first 2 of 6 thin Mel Bay books on learning guitar. The first taught 1st-position notes on the 3 higher strings, the 2nd book on the lower ones.

    ==>> Not knowing any better, I dug in and haven't regretted it since!
    - Ed

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  15. #85
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Bets are now on as to who gets the last word in this thread.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

  16. #86
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    R0gue, let me sneak in another, different nifty idea in favor of being able to read music. If you have more than one person playing a similar instrument, that introduces the idea of second parts and harmonies. Learning a tune by ear presents challenges to some, but it is doable. Listening to a duet, trio, etc. and pulling out the separate melody and harmonies is a BEAR! However, if you have the tune in notation, you are in for a treat. You and your daughter can sit down and literally make beautiful music together. Trying to do that by ear would be a lengthy, painful process.

    There is an enormous amount of resources on the Mandolin Cafe for sheet music in several parts. Immediately coming to mind are the beautiful books left to us by both Evelyn Tiffany Castiglioni and John Goodin. They may have left us, but their music lives on, Evelyn's at https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...rios?p=1846437 and John Goodin's at https://www.mandotopia.com . If those tunes look too difficult just yet, let me know, I could dig up some great fife tunes in two-parts that would be much easier. It's your life, you get to do what YOU want to do with it, but, personally, I really enjoy multi-part tunes with friends.

    p.s Ranald, I'm NOT trying to be that person, but I've been very busy for several days, and I decided to use the 14 hours I've found on my hands in a couple of airports with weight-restricted and lightning-struck airplanes giving me new and interesting reasons for not getting home and ample time for my bi-weekly Mandolin Cafe review. Sorry.
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  18. #87
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Ross View Post
    p.s Ranald, I'm NOT trying to be that person, but I've been very busy for several days, and I decided to use the 14 hours I've found on my hands in a couple of airports with weight-restricted and lightning-struck airplanes giving me new and interesting reasons for not getting home and ample time for my bi-weekly Mandolin Cafe review. Sorry.
    Rob, don't worry about what I said -- it was just a light comment. In fact, I was feeling a little badly about making it. I thought: Oh, I hope people aren't reluctant to post now. Anyway, you proved to me that I don't have the ability to intimidate the many users of Mandolin Cafe into inaction. By the way, I'm not posting this message to get the last word. I'm betting against me having the last word.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  20. #88
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Ornette Coleman, who was born on this day in 1930, observed:

    Ive been playing the saxophone since I was a teenager, but I kept analyzing, I kept trying to think, what is the difference between a note and an idea?
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  21. #89

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Many years ago I worked with a guy who it turned out was a jazz pianist, he taught me to read music, it really is not that hard.

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  23. #90
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    Many years ago I worked with a guy who it turned out was a jazz pianist, he taught me to read music, it really is not that hard.

    Dave H
    Yes, Millions of kids in school bands have learned to read music...it certainly is not THAT difficult.

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  25. #91
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Imhoff View Post
    By the way, If by the "so-called Nashville system" you mean the Roman numerals for chords, that started back the early 18th century. I would like to learn from a bluegrass scholar at what point it got to be "Nashville," like most teachers I'm a life-long learner. Maybe I'll try to learn to read tab.
    Nashville Number system is not the Roman numerals. They are 2 different but obviously related systems. Nashville Number System uses Arabic numerals.

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  27. #92
    Registered User wreded's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    By Roman numerals do you mean like "C VII" or "G IX"?

  28. #93
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by wreded View Post
    By Roman numerals do you mean like "C VII" or "G IX"?
    Not quite. The idea of the numbering system(s) is to divorce the chords from a specific key, thus allowing key to be adjusted as needed.

    For example:
    - Much early rock, and relatively simple music (*), might follow a I IV V (or V7) pattern. In the key of C, that would be C F G7, the chords built on the 1, 4, and 5 notes of the C scale. Too high or low for the singer? Try A, being the A D E7 chords. Or E: E A B7. Each chord is built on the 1 4 & 5 notes of the key's scale.

    - Mellow '50s doo-wop is often four chords, adding the "relative minor" of the key: I vi IV V7. In G, that would be G Em C D7.

    - Jazz also tends to follow 3 chords, but starting on the relative minor of the IV chord: IIm V7 I. Of course, the jazz folks like to push the limits and expand that to (for some of us!) absurd-ish levels. For example in C: Dm7 G7#9b5 CM7, or some other permutation. (Hey, I'm no expert!)

    Why "Nashville"? Because many country songs are NOT originally detailed in notation. Go the the studio, bring a lyric sheet w/ 1 4 5 scribbled around it, demo what the melody sounds like, and keep at it until it sounds good. Those studio players can change keys 'til the cows come home and/or the vocal sound right, maybe settling on Eb.

    (Yes, I did mix Roman & Arabic numerals; it just felt right w/out a lot of explaination.)

    * - "Relatively simple music", like, ya know, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"? I IV V all the way; although, in C, he momentarily throws in a slightly daring II7 that some (the BG Police?) might call "out of key".
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Mar-13-2023 at 11:11am. Reason: typo - WHOOPS!
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  30. #94
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ky Slim View Post
    Nashville Number system is not the Roman numerals. They are 2 different but obviously related systems. Nashville Number System uses Arabic numerals.
    Quote Originally Posted by wreded View Post
    By Roman numerals do you mean like "C VII" or "G IX"?
    Right. Music theory folks use Arabic numbers for intervals and scale degrees.

    D is the 2nd scale degree in the key of C major....the interval between C and E is a major 3rd

    Roman numerals are used for chords, as in I IV V, iii vi ii V I, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post

    Why "Nashville"? Because many such songs are NOT originally detailed in notation. Go the the studio, bring a lyric sheet w/ 1 4 5 scribbled around it, demo what the melody sounds like, and try it in a bunch of keys until it sound right. Those studio players can change keys 'til the cows come home and/or the vocal sound right, maybe in Eb.
    Indeed, that was sort of the point, a simple chart notation for professional studio players who could play well in any key.

  31. #95
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Several years ago, inspired by a workshop I attended, and an upcoming opportunity, I sat down to learn the Nashville Number System. I got Chas Williams book, put up a pot of coffee. I found it dovetails nicely with FFcP, (or at least the extent I had learned FFcP).

    I really admire piano, or woodwind players who can manage NNS. I would have been intimidated out of my mind had I tried this back when I played clarinet etc.

    The opportunity did happen, and was a really cool experience. One thing the book prepared me for was to be flexible to the many and various ways individuals write down their charts.
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post

    .. for professional studio players who could play well in any key.
    Another one of those pesky expectations of the complete mandolinner. Or to say it another way, something else you can put on the "to learn" pile.
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  34. #97
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Other skills the complete mandolinner needs:

    Can drive to the gig, or get to the gig anyway.

    Knows how to appropriately join a jam, and can figure out who is the alpha fiddler.

    Knows how, where, and when to cross the lines between tradition and innovation, comfort and growth.

    Knows when to shine, and when to support someone elses shine.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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  36. #98
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Right. Music theory folks use Arabic numbers for intervals and scale degrees.

    D is the 2nd scale degree in the key of C major....the interval between C and E is a major 3rd

    Roman numerals are used for chords, as in I IV V, iii vi ii V I, etc.

    Indeed, that was sort of the point, a simple chart notation for professional studio players who could play well in any key.
    Yes and Arabic numbers are used as the chords in Nashville Number charts. This is a simple version of Crazy. I'm not the best charting NNS but this is darn close to the Patsy recording.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  38. #99

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Would you be able to participate in this forum if someone told you that you didn't need to learn to read words?
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  39. #100
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    randybrown: "Would you be able to participate in this forum if someone told you that you didn't need to learn to read words?"

    -------------------------

    No, but I could take part in conversations, tell stories, sing, joke, ask for help, give instructions, do basic arithmetic, work with my hands and body, play a musical instrument, cook, think, philosophise, work with animals, hunt, fish, build a home, etc. If you look into the history of reading and writing, you'll find that writing is relatively recent in our existence, and mass literacy (in some societies) is a modern phenomenon. Musical writing is much more recent than the writing of words. I've known many people who couldn't read and write, but functioned well in the world. Of course, this is getting more difficult to do, as societies become more complex, and restaurants want an applicant for "dishwasher" to drop off a resume (really -- I saw the sign in a window a few years ago). Still, aural/oral, visual, and tactile transmission of culture has been the norm for humans since our beginnings, and is still extremely important. I learned to speak by imitation before knowing anything about letters. I could sing long before I ever learned to read notation. There are plenty of good reasons to read music and even more to read language, but many have functioned and still function well without either skill. However, I wouldn't suggest that anyone not be taught to read language if they have the ability to learn. Musical literacy is more complex. We can all think of more than one outstanding musician who couldn't read music.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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